The Capitals were in complete control—and up three goals—after Alex Ovechkin completed his 16th career hat trick about seven minutes into the third period on Wednesday night.
Then things got way too close for comfort.
The Blues scored twice in the final 1:15, capitalizing on a power play and an extra attacker situation. And the Capitals, once again, found themselves hanging on.
Ovechkin and Co. ultimately walked away with a 4-3 victory over a surging St. Louis team that was playing its second game in as many nights.
But Washington’s coaches and players agreed afterward that they’ve experienced a few too many “cheap lessons” in recent weeks.
“A couple of guys mentioned it [and] we just got to lock it down a little bit better,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We haven’t done that.”
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Earlier this season, the Capitals ranked among the stingiest teams in the third period. Now they’re 15th after an uneven November in which they’ve yielded a third period goal in 10 out of 11 games and 15 third period goals in total.
Although the Capitals went 7-3-1 in those games, Trotz said the need for stronger, more complete third periods will be addressed when the team reconvenes Friday after getting a day off for Thanksgiving.
“Our third periods have been strong the last couple of years,” Trotz said. “I wouldn’t say they are our strength right now. So that is something that we are going to address. …I thought [Wednesday’s] game should have stayed 4-1; I would have been a lot more happy. But two points against a very good team in St. Louis, we’ll take that any day of the week.”
The Blues’ near comeback began when Lars Eller was whistled for tripping with 2:40 left to play. It was Eller’s team-leading ninth minor penalty of the season.
Alex Pietrangelo struck on the ensuing power play to make it 4-2 with 1:15 remaining. Then, with goalie Carter Hutton on the bench, Vladimir Tarasenko scored with 29 seconds left to make it 4-3—and keep the Verizon Center faithful on the edge of their seats.
Thanks in part to a couple of late faceoff wins by Jay Beagle, though, the Capitals managed to avoid a calamity. That said, goalie Braden Holtby also knows there’s work to be done.
“It kinda turned with 10 minutes left in the game when we stopped moving our feet and got a few penalties against us,” Holtby said, referring to the holding penalty on Andre Burakovsky and tripping foul on Eller. “Ultimately it made the game too close. It’s something we need to get better at. It’s a win, but there’s a lot to learn from this one.”
Holtby added: “It definitely is [a cheap lesson]. The most frustrating part is we’ve done it a few times this year. And once happens a few times, it’s a habit. It’s something we need to address and get better at and try and clamp down in third periods. But a win is a win and we’ll learn from it and move on.”
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